Hi, everyone. Here’s your quick catch-up on the latest news in business and tech, plus what you need to know for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (Sept. 13-19)
TikTok Gets a Break
Dancing teens and influencers, rejoice: The TikTok ban has been averted, at least for now. Just hours before the Commerce Department was set to pull the popular video app TikTok from U.S. app stores, President Trump gave his “blessing” to a deal for the Chinese-owned platform to partner with American companies Oracle and Walmart. The agreement would reportedly put 53 percent of TikTok under American control, which satisfied the Trump administration’s concerns about China’s ability to use the app to spy on Americans. Less lucky was the Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat, whose ban is being contested in court.
Not So Fast
JPMorgan Chase raised eyebrows when it became the first major bank to order more workers back to the office in New York this week. (President Trump applauded the move, inaccurately tweeting that the bank was bringing “everyone BACK TO OFFICE,” when the order applied only to some senior employees.) The bank then had to send some people back home last week after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. The risks are serious, but the bank’s decision to resume in-person work was rooted in the relatable concern that working from home has hurt employees’ “creative combustion” — i.e., spontaneous ideas generated in group settings. Remember those?
Retail sales inched up 0.6 percent in August, a smaller increase than previous months. Analysts blamed the dwindling federal stimulus measures that had propped up consumer spending since April. While people still shopped for social-distancing necessities like home computers, cars and groceries, economists believe that the economic recovery may be trailing off as unemployment remains high, layoffs continue and aid funding runs out.
What’s Next? (Sept. 20-26)
Amazon’s Hiring Spree
The world’s largest online retailer is hiring another 100,000 employees in the United States and Canada to keep up with pandemic shopping habits. It’s Amazon’s fourth major hiring initiative in the United States this year, and is meant to keep the company ahead of competitors like Target and Walmart, which are also seeking bigger pieces of the growing e-commerce pie. But Amazon needs more than just manpower to keep its edge. It also needs space, and is reportedly looking to open more than 1,000 small warehouses in suburbs across the country, which will keep products closer to customers and allow for speedier deliveries.
Speaking of Competitive Edge
Amazon may be hiring, but Walmart is paying more. The nation’s largest private employer announced that it would raise wages for 11 percent of its American work force, about 165,000 people, as it restructured leadership roles. The move reflects Walmart’s effort to expand its foothold in the digital market (particularly with grocery deliveries) and retain skilled staff like bakers and deli employees. It will also affect the broader labor market, as Walmart’s hourly rates are often considered a benchmark for lower-wage workers.
Meeting in the Middle
Stimulus talks went in circles for yet another week as Republicans continued to insist that the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion proposal was too much. But there’s some hope of a compromise. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers put forth a $1.5 trillion alternative — still a higher number than most Republicans want to spend, and too low for most Democrats. But Mr. Trump embraced the idea, surprising others in his party and giving Democrats encouragement to hold out for more. On that note, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, will testify before Congress this week on the current status of pandemic relief measures, which most lawmakers agree are falling short.
The Federal Reserve indicated that it wouldn’t raise interest rates for years, keeping them at rock bottom through 2023 in an effort to revive the economy. The latest Apple Watch measures your blood oxygen level — a useful metric for health, in some cases — by shining lights into your wrists. And the ice cream company Blue Bell will have to pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties for shipping products contaminated with listeria in 2015. It’s the largest-ever criminal penalty for a conviction in a food safety case.